100 Voices for 100 Years - What next?

14th December is a significant day for the history books.  On 14 December 1799, George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, died in Virginia.  On 14 December 1911, Roald Amundsen became the first explorer to reach the South Pole.  On 14 December 1972, Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan become the last men to walk on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission.  At least, when I googled ‘historical events 14 December 1920’ this is what the internet told me happened on that day. 

For me, though, 14 December marks a different anniversary.  On 14th December 1920, judgment was given in Anderson, Petitioner.  It’s pretty rare for me to remember the date of a judgment (on that front I was not a particularly good law student) and rarer still that I would mark the anniversary of a Court of Session judgment by putting a bottle of prosecco in the fridge.  But this anniversary is different.  Although the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 permitted women to become lawyers for the first time, it was not until 1920 that this became a reality, when Madge Easton Anderson’s petition was granted and she became the first woman law agent in the United Kingdom.  14th December 1920 changed my life, and the lives of every woman lawyer in the UK, and it is important that we remember that.

In many ways, this commemorative work has been at the heart of what our 100 Voices for 100 Years team has been doing over the last two years.  We have been researching the life of Madge Easton Anderson, and her peers, so that we can remember and celebrate them.  Many of their stories – Madge’s included – have not been recorded in the history books. Remedying this involves huge time and much collaborative working; forensic archival work uncovers fragments of their story, and over time, following up on small leads, we can begin to piece together something bigger. This work is ongoing, but in the meantime we share the stories so far of these path-defining women - like Margaret Howie Strang Hall, Mary Fullarton Fyfe and Isabel Sinclair -  and let our imaginations do the rest.

There are many questions we ask ourselves of these early pioneers:  What were they like? What challenges did they face? How did it feel to be the only woman in the room? Ultimately, we know that these will never be answered, at least in full, but it led us to thinking that we did not want young women, 100 years from now, to look back and wonder the way we do with Madge, Margaret, Mary and Isabel. 

Therefore, the 100 Voices for 100 Years project set out to capture the experiences of a wide range of the present-day women in and of law – young and old, from different backgrounds, who have faced diverse challenges – in their own words.  We have been proud, through this exhibition, to share the experiences and aspirations of these women, all of whom have a connection, past or present, to UofG School of Law, but in many ways, that institutional connection is besides the point. Getting to know them over the last two years has been a privilege.  We have also benefited greatly from the support of wonderful colleagues, including Pat Lucie, Charlie Peevers and Ruth O’Donnell.  Their collective efforts and knowledge have enriched this exhibition. We are indebted to them and look forward to our next phase of collaboration.

We set out to publish 100 Voices and, with the publication of Lady Hale’s Voice on 11th December, we have done that. These personal testimonies hold power individually, and collectively. They have informed, inspired, shocked, empowered, angered and uplifted us. We now turn our attention to ensuring that the lessons within them can inform progressive change – in the legal profession, in our Law Schools and within in our justice system.  And 100 Voices is nice to mark a centenary of women in law, but we know that there are many more stories waiting to be told.  There are gaps in our project that must be addressed.  We thought we had reached the end but, now we are here, we realise we are only just beginning. 

To mark this new beginning, today we publish an animation created by a young woman, Clarissa Hanekom, which features poetry written by our poet-in-residence, Holly McKenna, and performed by Scottish actress Karen Fishwick.  Working with these creative young women has been a joy and we are so excited to share their work with the world. 

This animation, like our project, celebrates the achievements of the past while looking to the future.  In Holly’s words,

“We must not celebrate too

soon. We must not be blind to the gaps in

our patchwork; platitudes to pacify,

polyester to silence calls for silk

which have echoed for a century.”

Now is a moment for celebration but also a time to organise and agitate for change.  In the new year we will be announcing our upcoming plans on this front and we look forward to sharing them with you. 

If you want to be involved in the project – whether by contributing a Voice or sharing your ideas on where we should go next – please do get in touch.

In sisterly solidarity,

Seonaid, Maria and Marie-Claire


This blog post first appeared at: https://www.uofgschooloflaw.com/blog/2020/12/14/100-voices-for-100-years-what-next